Advocates across the state of Michigan are hitting the streets in a major push to gather signatures that would decriminalize possession of small amounts marijuana in up to 18 cities. They have until July 29 to get the signatures needed to qualify for the ballot. If you have not gotten involved already, it’s not too late to help!
Three communities out of the 18 have already qualified. The current effort follows similar campaigns in numerous other cities in years past. Last year, voters in Lansing, Ferndale, and Jackson voted overwhelmingly in favor decriminalization measures. In 2012, voters supported similar voter initiatives in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Flint. MPP wishes to thank everyone involved in this tremendous grassroots effort that is sweeping communities in Michigan!
This afternoon, Vermont became the 15th state to decriminalize marijuana possession (two others have made it legal). Gov. Peter Shumlin, a vocal champion of sensible marijuana policies, signed H. 200 at about 1:30 p.m.
Beginning on July 1, H. 200 will eliminate Vermont’s criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with civil fines for adults and generally with diversion for those under 21. Click here for details on how H. 200 will change Vermont’s penalty structure.
This is a major victory for MPP and our legislative allies in Montpelier, who have worked hard to build support for this sensible reform.
The next step for Vermont policymakers will be to consider legal alternatives to the illicit market for marijuana. Attorney General William Sorrell has publicly argued in favor of decriminalizing plants, and many legislators have made the case for replacing marijuana prohibition with a taxed and regulated system.
It was close, but by a vote of 37-33 the New Mexico House passed legislation removing the possibility of jail time for possession of marijuana. Next, the bill will move to the Senate where it will be assigned to a committee. It will then need to win the support of the majority of committee members, then a majority of the full Senate.
If it passes in the Senate and is not vetoed by Gov. Susana Martinez, H.B. 465 would make the first offense for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil offense, punishable only by a $50 fine. Possession of one to four ounces would also be punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. Second offenses would be petty misdemeanors subject to double the fine amount, but would still carry no risk of jail time. Possession of four to eight ounces would be a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $300.
If you live in New Mexico, please don't wait - contact your senator now and urge him or her to support H.B. 465. When you’re done, forward this to your friends who live in New mexico and ask them to do the same.
[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] "DON'T book 'em, Danno."[/caption]
Tuesday, the Hawaii Senate unanimously voted to approve a decriminalization bill, sending it to the House of Representatives. S.B. 472, SD 1, would replace Hawaii’s current criminal penalties — including possible jail time — for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of $1,000. The bill originally called for a fine of $100, but it was amended up in committee.
If you live in Hawaii, please email your representative and ask that she or he work with marijuana policy advocates to bring the fine back down to a more reasonable level and craft a bill that will be agreeable to all parties.
While the Senate was passing S.B. 472, SD 1, the House was also approving legislation to improve Hawaii’s marijuana policies. The House passed H.B. 667 (allowing out-of-state patients and making other improvements) and H.B. 668 (transferring the medical marijuana program from the public safety department to the health department). The two bills now move to the Senate for committee hearings.
This past year was undeniably the most productive 365-day period in the history of the marijuana policy reform movement. There were a number of significant accomplishments, but here is the Marijuana Policy Project's list of the "Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2012." As with our previous annual lists, it includes neither important scientific developments nor important international developments. Rather, this list focuses on the biggest marijuana-related policy accomplishments in the U.S. in the last year.
To read the full list, please visit The Huffington Post.
Marijuana reform is a hot topic of conversation in state legislatures around the country and not just in traditionally liberal states like California and Rhode Island. In fact, bills to make marijuana possession punishable by a fine only, rather than jail time, were introduced this year in conservative bastions like Arizona and Tennessee, and it’s a too-well-kept secret that such laws have been on the books since the '70s in Mississippi, Nebraska, Ohio, and several other less-than-liberal states.
You can now add Indiana to the list of states where the conversation has gone mainstream. Last week, influential Republican state Senator Brent Steele (R-Bedford) announced he’d be introducing legislation to make possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana an “infraction,” punishable by fine, rather than a criminal misdemeanor.
"We have to ask ourselves as a society, do we really want to be locking people up for having a couple of joints in their pocket," Steele told local media. "Is that how we want to be spending our criminal justice resources?" Steele also pointed out that several other states have already embraced similar policies, noting that “society didn’t melt down, and we didn’t turn into a drug-crazed culture as a result of it.”
Similar legislation has been introduced before by state Senator Karen Tallian (D-Portage), but without the support of Republicans, who hold a majority in both chambers, it never got off the ground. Speculation is that Steele’s support could change that. Steele, who is closely allied with Indiana prosecutors and is described by Indiana political veterans as a “rock-ribbed law-and-order guy,” chairs the powerful Senate Committee on Corrections, Criminal and Civil Matters where the bill would likely be assigned.
This is one of those stories that churns my stomach.
In early September, officials in Shawnee County, Kansas, announced that due to budget constraints, they would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence cases. This resulted in many domestic violence cases being dismissed without prosecution throughout the county. Also, a flood of such cases is being sent to the Topeka legal system instead.
Topeka is in just as dire economic straits as the county in which it resides. After determining that they could not afford to prosecute these cases either, the city council is now considering a series of proposals to cut expenses from the budget. One of those is removing the portion of the city code criminalizing domestic battery. Adding insult to injury, literally, they’ve chosen Domestic Violence Awareness Month to have this discussion.
Can’t these city council members think of something less vile, hurtful, and dangerous to both individuals and society than domestic abuse to decriminalize?
We have a suggestion:
Topeka City Council
215 SE 7th, Room 255
Topeka, KS 66603-3914
Re: Decriminalization of Domestic Violence
It has come to my attention that the city of Topeka, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, is considering repealing that portion of the city code that bans domestic battery as a means of forcing county officials to prosecute this crime – something Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has apparently already stopped doing. In fact, since Taylor announced on September 8 that he would no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor cases in the City of Topeka, 30 domestic battery cases have not been pursued, and three alleged domestic violence offenders have been released – their cases put on hold – until the dispute over who will pay for prosecution of such cases has been resolved.
I write to offer a potential solution to this standoff: decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana possession instead. Many other governments, state and local, are facing similar budget deficiencies and are increasingly turning to marijuana decriminalization as a partial solution. In fact, just this year the Connecticut Legislature passed a measure decriminalizing possession of less than half an ounce of marijuana. In 2008, 65% of Massachusetts’ voters approved a similar measure, and ten other states – including neighboring Colorado and Nebraska – have also decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Marijuana decriminalization is also an increasingly popular solution at the municipal level. Columbia, Missouri, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and even your in-state neighbor, Lawrence, Kansas are among the many municipalities that have made possession of marijuana a civil, fineable offense with no possibility of jail time.
Not only would decriminalizing marijuana free up funds, but Topeka police, who would otherwise be tied up booking and processing non-violent marijuana users, could instead simply write a ticket and return to protecting the community from real threats to public safety, like domestic abusers. The same goes for judges, prosecutors, and district attorneys, like Mr. Taylor, should Shawnee County consider a similar move.
As our recession recovery continues, all across the country cities and counties are being forced to make decisions, many of them very difficult, about what services they can afford to provide. This decision, however, should be an easy one. People who choose to use marijuana instead of more dangerous drugs like alcohol are not public safety threats. On the other hand, those who would abuse their own loved ones are among the greatest threats to public safety in any community. Battered spouses should not be left defenseless in the name of enforcing misguided marijuana laws. Will you please consider this sensible alternative? I look forward to your reply.
Marijuana Policy Project
Hopefully, the Topeka City Council will listen to reason and at least seriously consider this option. After all, even staunch drug warriors have a hard time explaining how simply decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana can actually hurt anybody. In Massachusetts, where possession of less than an ounce is now treated as a civil infraction, law enforcement is recognizing that there have been no noticeable negative consequences to such a policy.
I’m pretty sure that everyone can agree domestic violence is much more harmful. Except, perhaps, the abusive scum that will walk if the city council moves ahead as planned.
We’ll let you know if they respond.
Last week, we discussed the near record number of arrests for simple marijuana possession in 2010, and how no matter how many people we arrest for marijuana violations, the rates of use are unaffected.
Just to put that in perspective, it turns out that last year was the second biggest year for marijuana arrests in United States history!
Check it out:
It is very disturbing to see how far the actions of our law enforcement community really are from public opinion and actual rational thought when it comes to policy. The year with the second highest number of arrests in national history came simultaneously with an increased acceptance of marijuana use and an increase in public support for change. How does this make sense?
The good news is that we can stop this by supporting state and national reform measures in any way possible. While exact statistics aren’t available yet, it is certain that a noticeable percentage of the decrease in arrests over the last two years was due to MPP’s Question 2 passing in Massachusetts and going into effect in 2009. This initiative removed criminal penalties for the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and replaced the criminal penalty with the equivalent of a parking ticket. If we keep working together to pass sane, rational marijuana laws, we can make that number drop before next year.
On July 2, Eric Perez turned eighteen. On July 10, his family mourned his untimely death.
Mr. Perez suffered a medical emergency while being held at a detention center in Florida. Despite vomiting and crying for help, Mr. Perez was left to suffer for over six hours before receiving medical attention. Tragically, by the time he was seen by emergency personnel, it was too late. So what was Mr. Perez doing in a detention center to begin with? The non-violent act of possessing a small amount of marijuana.
On the night of June 29, three days before his eighteenth birthday, police stopped Mr. Perez for riding his bicycle without a night-light. Police searched Mr. Perez and found the marijuana. Mr. Perez was on probation for a “years old” robbery charge and was cuffed and sent to a detention center. It was in this detention center that he breathed his last breath.
Let’s engage in a thought experiment here. Say Florida had a taxed and regulated system of marijuana distribution for adult, non-medical use. In that scenario, Mr. Perez is never arrested for possessing a small amount of a relatively harmless drug. He may even be praised for choosing to ride his bicycle as opposed to driving a car. Perhaps he’s given a ticket or sent to drug education for underage possession of marijuana. Either way, in this hypothetical, Mr. Perez is not in jail during his medical emergency, thus providing him a better chance of receiving prompt medical attention. Mr. Perez could still be alive.
Even a policy that simply decriminalizes the possession of only a small amount of marijuana would have been preferable. Fourteen other states have already removed the possibility of jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana and replaced it with a simple civil violation. If Florida were one of them, Mr. Perez would have been given a ticket and sent on his way. Again, all indications point to the fact that had his medical emergency happened on the outside, he would have stood a much better chance of surviving.
Unfortunately for Mr. Perez’s family, we do not live our lives in hypotheticals. Policy decisions carry with them very real consequences. When it comes to our current marijuana policy, those consequences tend to lean towards the tragic — lost lives, destroyed families, and government waste. Until we replace our failed marijuana policies with more sensible and less destructive alternatives, we will continue to see stories like Mr. Perez’s.
Encouraging news from the City of Brotherly Love today: Philadelphia’s new district attorney and members of the state Supreme Court are taking steps to remove criminal penalties for people arrested with up to 30 grams (or a little more than an ounce) of marijuana. Under the new approach, those caught with marijuana would face a possible fine, but receive no criminal conviction.
“The goal,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.”
But in a frustrating case of two steps forward, one step back, a Philly police spokesman tells the paper, “We’re not going to stop locking people up … our officers are trained to do that. Whether or not they make it through the charging process, that’s up to the D.A. We can’t control that. Until they legalize it, we’re not going to stop.”
What a nuanced view.
Maybe someone should tell that guy how police in Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, and more than a dozen other cities have followed orders to make marijuana a “lowest law enforcement priority” with few complications or adverse consequences. Except, you know, for police having to focus their efforts on more serious crimes.
In any case, decriminalizing marijuana in Philadelphia—the sixth most populous city in the United States—would be a major boon for marijuana policy reform efforts in cities all across the country. Let’s hope it happens.